Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-08-10 06:44:26
The Wonderful 101 Demo Feedback
Chaotic, colourful and stylish - three words that could be used to describe Platinum Games' upcoming Wii U exclusive, The Wonderful 101. Since the first trailer landed, I've been keeping up with this game for two main reasons: firstly, because I respect anything that the PG team puts out; and secondly, because any game that is exclusively coming out on the Wii U should have a close eye kept on it at all times. After the 9 August Nintendo Direct that focused exclusively on The Wonderful 101 aired, the demo finally hit the eShop as a free download. Having now played through everything the demo has to offer, I am prepared to offer my feedback.
While I'm not disappointed with 101, I am a little underwhelmed. The game plays reasonably well, although it's also fairly clumsy. There's certainly a learning curve as you play as the titular superheroes of the game, recruiting citizens into your super-powered army and bashing up robots. The demo throws you in with little to no explanation of what's going on, leaving it up to the player to work out what the control inputs are. I'm sure I'm still probably playing the game wrong, despite having finished the demo - while I managed to complete the generous amount of stages on display, I didn't ever feel as if I truly knew what I was doing.
The game is, after all, quite button-mashy, and deliberately so. 101 loves to throw waves of robots at the player. It's impressive that so much is happening on the screen at one time, but it also gets confusing when you're attempting to micromanage strategies whilst a giant robot is dominating half the screen. Not that combat really requires a huge amount of strategy, at least not from the levels in the demo - fights play out with a series of moves that can be joined together to form elaborate combos. By drawing straight lines, circles and L shapes onto the Gamepad, you can change your attack style from using a giant sword to a fist to a gun, which serve varying purposes in different situations. They can also be used to solve puzzles: the sword can cut chains; the fist can turn cranks; the gun can shoot targets. It's nice to see that different types of combat style serve different functions both in and out of combat.
The Gamepad is responsive insofar as you can usually determine what will happen when you draw an appropriate input onto it, but I also found that it would frequently misread what I was doing. I would draw an L quickly onto the pad to change my attack pattern to using the gun, but for some reason it wouldn't register from time to time. I also found recruiting citizens to be difficult - in theory, I think, you're supposed to draw around them on the Gamepad (if the demo makes it clear what you're supposed to do, I'm afraid I missed that tutorial). In practice, I found that blindly rubbing the screen and hoping for the best was the most effective way of recruiting them.
There are some minor camera issues which I hope won't be too much of a concern in the final release later this month, and the graphics are sadly quite lacking. While there's a lot of hectic action on screen at any given time, textures and character models are ugly, with some looking as if they've come straight off of the PS2. It's a minor issue, but as I'm playing my Wii U on a high definition TV, I'd expect the game to look a bit better than it does. Fortunately, the bombastic music is a lot more impressive, and the voice acting is suitably fitting for a game based around a squad of superheroes (exaggerated and camp, but performed well).
My greatest concern about 101 is that by the end of the demo I was just about ready to throw in the towel. The gameplay on display in the demo isn't bad by any means, but it's also not as interesting as you'd think after looking at screenshots and videos of the game. By the time I finished the final special mission, I felt as if I'd seen most of what the game has to offer. I'm sure there is a lot more content - things to purchase; skills to gain - but the core mechanics were already starting to wear out their welcome by the time I finished my play session. Perhaps it will be a game that is best played in small bursts?
From what I played, though, most of the game seems to be centered around entering a closed off area, fighting off the enemies, waiting for more enemies to spawn, and continuing with this pattern until the game tells you to move on. After you've spent thirty minutes doing that, you come to the realisation that beneath 101's delightfully original premise is a fairly standard action game, at least from what the demo has shown me. I hope that the rest of the game has more variety to it, otherwise I think I'll be giving this one a pass.